Canby City Council Expands Fireworks Exemption for Canby High

Fireworks have again been the subject of conversation at Canby City Council over the past few weeks — as councilors sought to expand the Canby School District’s noise ordinance exemption to include the aerial display that traditionally marks the end of the high school graduation ceremony.

In 2018, the council held public hearings on the fireworks issue at the request of Paul Ylvisaker — a nearby resident who suffers from chronic pain and PTSD that he says the random explosions exacerbate — and other neighbors, but things did not go the way they’d hoped.

Rather than restrict the Canby School District’s aerial displays, the council carved out an explicit exemption for the district in the existing noise ordinance, similar to the ones already on the books for other local government entities like the Canby Fire District (Fourth of July fireworks) and the Clackamas County Fairgrounds.

But oddly, the exemption covered only the fireworks used to celebrate touchdowns at Canby High School football games — leaving out the displays that have accompanied Canby High graduation ceremonies for decades.

Technically, this meant the school officials would have needed to request a noise variance from the city each year to continue the graduation fireworks — which councilors almost certainly would have approved with little fuss.

But, earlier this year, Councilor Chris Bangs (who is also a teacher at Canby High School) proposed a far simpler solution: amend the ordinance to include an exemption for the graduation ceremony.

Councilors gave final approval to the amendment at their July 21 meeting, officially codifying the use of fireworks at both Canby football games and graduation in the existing noise ordinance.

Ylvisaker has also returned to the story.

The local contractor became very much the face of the anti-fireworks crowd in 2019, when he presented a petition signed by 50 residents and several businesses asking that the football tradition go away — which the city and school officials appeared to agree to — before backtracking two days later, calling it a misunderstanding.

Ylvisaker has continued to push the issue this year, frequently decrying the carte blanche the district has been given to use fireworks as “abusive” and “discriminatory” to his neighborhood.

Interestingly, though, he said he did not oppose the actual amendment being considered — adding a noise exemption for graduation — but the practice of treating the Canby football team differently than other students or, indeed, other athletics and activities.

“I will support for graduation, because that’s an achievement that many students can be part of,” Ylvisaker said. “It doesn’t take athletic ability, and the celebration of that would be at a specific time — not random. So I’m in favor of it.”

Displays that are anticipated and happen over a set interval (e.g., July Fourth or graduation) can tend to be less impactful to those with PTSD than random, unexpected explosions.

Ylvisaker said they can also afford residents an opportunity to make arrangements for their pets, like his cat — of whom he shared a photo with the mayor and city councilors at the last meeting.

“This is my cat,” he said, walking the picture around in front of the dais at City Hall. “This is an animal that is abused when the fireworks start. I’m not making it up. I’d bring my cat here, but that would be abusive. It needs to stop.”

Ylvisaker attempted to draw a parallel between the city’s continuation of football fireworks in the name of tradition, while spending millions to enact a quiet zone at three railroad intersections in downtown Canby.

“Tradition seems to be the theme or excuse — and I believe it to be an excuse — for continuing the explosions,” he said. “Yet, you are willing to change the tradition of train whistles at three crossings.”

“Our nation recognized certain traditions to be harmful, abusive as well as discriminatory,” he continued, referring to amendments abolishing slavery and giving women and people of color the right to vote. “As a nation, we amended our Constitution to eliminate these behaviors.”

The amendment to the city’s noise ordinance passed unanimously, with Bangs abstaining due to his employment with the district.

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